The Perverse Discourse of “Crippling” Sanctions
I expect to be fed a large helping of superlative self-idolizing rhetoric at presidential debates focused on foreign policy, and so I kept my gag reflect under control when hearing Obama describe the United States as the one indispensable power in the world and Romney refer to the nation as “the hope of the earth” with a military power second to none. When both men spoke of the sanctions against Iran and called them “crippling,” a word clearly meant to make me the voter feel all good and safe and secure inside, I choked from nausea.
You’ll notice that neither Romney nor Obama mentioned the real human beings hurt by “crippling sanctions.” Their talk was all abstraction: if Iran is crippled, then it cannot harm us. Crippled is good. We want Iran crippled. Until, so help us God, we turn our thoughts to the innocent people who actually suffer the crippling effects Obama and Romney are so determined to inflict. For Romney, and I assume for Obama, crippling sanctions are Number One. Let that sink in as you picture children deprived of food and medicine.
Look, if you want to argue that sanctions are somehow justified, at least have the respect for your fellow human beings to acknowledge and own the terrible human costs you’re willing to tolerate and that you don’t have to suffer. Don’t hide the hurt behind perverse feel-good abstractions.
Agreed. On a note of much less consequence, I note with interest that that is an acceptable phrase to use.
The effect of the rhetoric is that people tend to think that economic sanctions are this anodyne, slap-on-wrist alternative to war. They are not. They cripple the basic civil institutions and harm the worst off in that country. The actual dictators are rarely hurt as much and sanctions do not even turn people against the dictators, they just create more antipathy towards the US.
I remember this same thing being written during the 1990s, about Iraq.
Then America invaded in 2003 and everyone was like, “whoa, man, why did we give up on sanctions, those were working great!” (when they bothered to acknowledge that sanctions existed at all)
Yeah, I wonder if there was any overlap between the anti-sanction crowd and the “whoa, man, why did we give up on sanctions” crowd? I didn’t see any, but pith is its own truth, right?
http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2000/msg00498.html> Yep. (I’m just gonna assume that you can work the Googles and find out Amnesty International’s position on the Iraq occupation.)
Are the effects of sanctions the responsibility of the international community or the responsibility of those who don’t submit to the demands of the international community?
The international community.
In order for it not to be, not only would you have to think that sanctions is an appropriate punishment, but that international community contained the moral authority to make such demands from the sanctioned country in the first place.
Sorry, I pressed Submit too soon.
Neither of those claims are easy to establish. I cannot see how any instance of economic saanctions has ever been an appropriate response. (primarily because the regime is not the one which has been ‘punished’, but the ordinary people living in the country)
It is also not clear if the norms of the international community are reasonable in the first place.
Even if the norms are reasonable, it is still not clear if countries can have moral authority over one another.
I think the concept is that the ordinary people in a nation under sanctions will blame their own government’s intransigence for their suffering and rise up against it. This example of stupidity ignores once again the fact that the ordinary people of any nation resent interference from outside, even if a few dissidents try to use such outside pressure towards the achievement of their own ends. This lesson was first learned when European nationalism completely destroyed international socialism (which had been on the rise) at the time of WWI. Nothing has changed.
I think the reduction in deaths through war since the inception of the UN gives the international community the moral authority to act.
I agree that there has been little if any success for economic sanctions.
The most striking case I can think of was American sanctions against Japan prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour. From the Japanese point of view this gave them a stark choice: submit, or war with America. They didn’t seem to see what was , for them the correct choice, ignore America and take the resources they needed from the British, Dutch and French colonies.
Sanctions against the white regime in Southern Rhodesia/Rhodesia/Zimbabwe may have hastened its fall.
@ GordonHide —
There certainly has been a reduction of deaths among Europeans since the inception of the UN, but I would attribute that more to the virtual impossibility of such was, due to the development of nuclear weapons than I would to any other factor.
That said, has there really been a reduction on war deaths amongst “3rd world” countries since the inception of the UN? I don’t know. They seem to be dying in large numbers all the time, including sporadic ethnic cleansings and attempted genocides.
The major powers are stymied by M.A.D., while the “primitives” armed only with conventional weapons fight on as always.
@Rodak — “has there really been a reduction on war deaths amongst “3rd world” countries since the inception of the UN?”
Read “The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity” by Steven Pinker or at least a few of the reviews.
In previous times wars caused more deaths from famine and disease than from actual fighting. The UN, via its refugee programs, has had a major effect on these casualties.
Once we exclude WW2, the number of deaths through war has increased not decreased. WW2 was deeply anomalous. And, WW2 happened even though there was a league of nations.
@Murali – “Once we exclude WW2, the number of deaths through war has increased not decreased”
-and your source for this?
Murali – “Once we exclude WW2, the number of deaths through war has increased not decreased”
Sorry, here is the link. I had to tabulate and add everything with excel.
Post WW2 inclusive of civil wars, we average 1.18 million deaths per year due to war. From american civil war till ww2 inclusive, we average 1.48 million deaths per year due to war. Excluding world war 2 we get about 845000 war related deaths per year. Granted that there was a bit of conflict in India that was not taken into account, there would ned to be 20000 war related deaths in that time period for the average to break even with the post UN war-relatd death rate.
Murali, have you heard about Misra’s book estimating the reprisal killings of Indians after the 1857 mutiny numbered in the millions? I’m not sure how many of those would fall in your period, but it might change the estimates a bit.
It seems like a higher population would lead to a higher death toll in a comparable conflict, other things equal. The current world population is more than 5 times what it was in 1850. I’m not sure that a simple comparison of numbers is tells us a whole lot.
In truth Steven Pinker’s contention of reduced violence is based on figures corrected for population differences. This is fair if one is considering the likelihood of the individual being affected by violence.
If you have an alternative to sanctions short of war I’m sure we are all ears. It’s east to criticise but what would you do?
Free-trade. Have more bilateral and multilateral free-trade agreements until all trade barriers in all countries have been abolished. The sheer loss of revenue will provide a steep disincentive to countries invading each other.
Violence by the ruling elite against its own is often exacerbated greatly by instability of the regime. Free-trade stabilises regimes by providing the citizens with material goods and thus not giving them cause for grievance. Stable regimes are more likely to tranisiton to more just ones over time. If we are serious about reducing mass violence, then we should abolish all trade barriers everywhere.
Pinker talks about that too in The Better Angels of Our Nature. He indicates there’s substantial empirical support for trade as a means for preventing war.
Well it’s a theory I suppose. Perhaps you can explain in detail how free trade will stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons and how it will stop them trying to carry out their stated aim of destroying Israel?
Are you sure you want what your asking for? Imports of drugs, weapons, child pornography, toxic waste, substandard pharmaceutical products, dangerous toys, adulterated food, unsafe vehicles, animal and plant life that will change your ecological balance, “bush meat” made from endangered species, human organs for transplant, ivory, products produced by child labour, products produced by very poorly paid people working in dangerous or unhealthy conditions and whale oil.
Familiarisation with others and dependence on them through trade does reduce violence but trade has been around since the dawn of civilisation and it’s proved to be only a small part of the answer.
p/s trade has presumably become less “free” since its original inception. Where’s the evidence that this reduction in free trade has led to more violence?
Imports of drugs, weapons, child pornography, toxic waste, substandard pharmaceutical products, dangerous toys, adulterated food, unsafe vehicles, animal and plant life that will change your ecological balance, “bush meat” made from endangered species, human organs for transplant, ivory, products produced by child labour, products produced by very poorly paid people working in dangerous or unhealthy conditions and whale oil
1. What people put voluntarily put into their own bodies is none of my business.
2. I have some problems with gun rights, so I will grant you this one
3. toxic waste. If poorer countries are willing to handle our toxic waste, what is the problem again? Presumably, if they take it up, they do so because it actually improves their lives more than the alternative right?
4. substandard pharmaceutical products. A greater variety of pharmaceutical products is actually good. It gives access to at least some level of care to the worst off whereas they would have none if they only had expensive top of the line stuff.
5. dangerous toys, adulterated food – Marketing something as a thing which it is not is fraud straight and simple. Restricting such practices does not constitute setting a trade barrier. In this case something not fit for consumption just isnt food and something with lead paint which will posion children is not a children’s toy.
6. unsafe vehicles – Consumer safety regulation can be privatised. And besides, people take their own risks when they buy unsafe cars The sale can always be regulated inside the country. There need not be any kind of tarriff that restricts its import/export.
7. human organs for transplant – why should we ban this again?
8. animal and plant life that will change your ecological balance – for some reason, I don’t find myself deply worried that some local species will be replaced by exotic ones. It has happenned in the past in my country and I just think meh…
9. “bush meat” made from endangered species, ivory, whale oil – One of the biggest contributers to their endangered status is the black market. Because trade in such products is illegal, it is illegal to farm those animals for those products. This means that instead of having sustainable practices where we leave the wild population alone, we have unsustainable black market practices where the wild population is slowly hunted to extinction
10. products produced by very poorly paid people working in dangerous or unhealthy conditions. I wonder what happens to these poor people who are so desperate that they work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for little money when we stop buying stuff from them…
GordonHide makes a standard mistake, equating free trade with a lack of any regulations. That’s wrong. If America wants to ban child porn, it can ban child porn from anywhere. If it wants to regulate pharmaceuticals for safety, it just has to apply equal standards to domestically and foreign produced pharmaceuticals. All free trade means is not discriminating against non-domestic products on the basis of their being non-domestic.
James Hanley – I’m actually in the process of writing a post on trade ecoonmics that touches on this point.
I look forward to it.
I can see where the confusion can come from. Libertarians particularly are so vocally anti-regulation and anti trade-restraints, and trade restraints are a type of regulation, that I think it could be easy for someone to conflate the two and think that a cry for free trade is a cry to allow absolutely everything.
@ GordonHide —
If I give you a merciless beating is the responsibility for your injuries mine? Or is it yours for being too weak to stop me?
@ GordonHide —
Steven Pinker, btw, is a self-promoting asshole.
Ah, someone else you like to insult because he doesn’t agree with you. Pinker has a doctorate from Harvard, a fellowship from MIT and currently has a Chair in Harvard. So you’ll forgive me if I take your opinion under advisement.
I don’t dispute his high intelligence. And I even tend to agree with his thinking much of the time. But the way he presents himself on TV and the lecture circuit is sick-making. To me, anyway.
Well you would be breaking the law. But, that aside, I might have thoroughly deserved a merciless beating.
Was Japan not responsible for the eventual consequences that befell in WWII?
I think it takes two to tango in these cases.
“I think it takes two to tango in these cases.”
Doesn’t this just assume that “might makes right?” My take on hopes for world peace would involve every major power going home and leaving weaker nations to live as they wish to live, and to work out their domestic problems without outside interference. The truth is, we want to rip them off for their oil, etc., so we have to exert hegemony in parts of the world where we don’t belong in order to satisfy our greed.
You seem to believe that what we do is automatically morally justified, simply because we are “the good guys.” I have new for you: most of the world doesn’t look at it that way, and for good reason.
American isolationism writ large. – Yes, well we know how that ended.
A strange philosophy:
Let the neighbourhood bully run riot as long as he leaves you alone?
Let your neighbour beat his wife as long as he doesn’t try and beat yours?
The funny thing is, I don’t think its even that good a way of satisfying greed. Given the massive cost of the American war machine I’m almost certain simply buying the oil would be cheaper.
The plutocrats make money hand-over-fist, which they bleed the rest of us to obtain.
Adam Smith said similar things about British Colonialism.
Stay out until invited in. Would we have wanted England coming in to fight for the Confederacy in our Civil War? Would we have tolerated sanctions aimed at our Jim Crow laws, more recently? We assume our absolute moral authority and right to interfere wherever and whenever its suits our interests. There is no such thing as “isolationism” in a world connected electronically as this world is now.
I don’t think the US does assume absolute moral authority and right to interfere whenever it suits. It either justifies interference on its right to self defense or it seeks to get the moral authority by reference to the UN.
As for bilateral sanctions, every nation has the right to decide with whom it will trade.
@ Okay, Gordon. If you ever decide to visit this planet, please look me up.
I understand what you’re saying, Kyle. Yes, we do need to think about the human beings being affected by crippling sanctions. Do crippling sanctions even work in deterring threats, terrorist acts? But what is the answer? Just to let Iran create a nuclear weapon? Are there other options to stop Iran from making a nuclear bomb? We shouldn’t ignore their threats.
Israel already has nuclear weapons, and it has far more recent rhetoric that indicates its willingness to use said weapon on Iran. Meanwhile, Iran doesn’t have a weapon. Its nuclear programme is a peaceful one. That the machinary used to make fissionable material for reactors could also make fissionable material for bombs is just a result of fissionable material for reactors being out of necessity of a higher grade. Even if Iran aquires a nuclear weapon, it will not use it because it knows that Israel can easily wipe it out if it tries. They may be deeply religiously conservative, but they are not suicidally insane. At least ostensibly, they are deeply committed to eschewing nuclear weapons because they have declared them unislamic
Iran claims its nuclear program is a peaceful one, but given their lack of truthfulness in other areas who really believes them? Maybe you and other naive folks do, but then again your life doesn’t depend on it. As for whether or not Iran would use a nuclear weapon when they acquire them, how the heck do you know? These are the same folks that used their own troops in human wave attacks to clear minefields during the war with Iraq so clearly they have little regard for the lives of their own. That qualifies as suicidally insane to me.
but given their lack of truthfulness in other areas who really believes them
Which particular areas would these be? Also the US has absolutely zero credibility when it comes to accusations of othr countries in the middle east having WMD.
These are the same folks that used their own troops in human wave attacks to clear minefields during the war with Iraq so clearly they have little regard for the lives of their own. That qualifies as suicidally insane to me.
Since when was the willingness of a dictator to sacrifice the lives of his peons a sign of suicidal tendencies?
Indeed, I could well believe that the loss of Iranian lives wouldn’t bother the Iranian government, but the loss of power and prestige they would suffer – ruling over a nation of ruins and ash, would hurt them dearly. Antagonising the United States makes them look strong, but the curb stomping that would come from actually fighting the US (especially in a nuclear exchange) would make them look weak.
As paper tigers go, I think they’re smart enough to not try using their claws.
How do you know Iran’s programme is entirely peaceful? Because they say so?
Because social conservatives totally don’t care about the reputational effects of being caught in such a lie. It’s like the pope taking God’s name in vain. It is possible that he may do it, but you will never publicly catch him doing it.
Is that supposed to be an answer? Because it seems to be more of an evasion than an actual answer.
Whose social conservatives? Iran’s? They’re the ones telling lies.
If there are no actions available to you that will address your problem, the correct course of action is to do nothing. Acting for the sake of action is an incredible folly.
Both candidates seemed to try to top the other on how disastrous they can make the Iran situation. I’ve done a cross national analysis on the effect of sanctions and found they’re most effective at pushing countries away from democracy than coercion.
“Which particular areas would these be? Also the US has absolutely zero credibility when it comes to accusations of other countries in the middle east having WMD.”
Do you believe the same about all the other intelligence agencies – which was either all or nearly all of them – who believed that Saddam had WMD’s before we entered Iraq? Plus one needs to look at the perception that a person gives off such as that Saddam pretended to have usable WMD’s (trace amounts as as old unusable WMD’s were found in Iraq and the WMD’s found in Syria recently can be linked to Iraq) because Saddam wanted Iran to think that he had WMD’s. Saddam also had practically everyone in the entire world believing that he had WMD’s and therefore believing that he was a threat. In addition one needs to look back at history. The history showed us that Saddam had in face used his WMD’s to commit mass murder on his own people and also use them in the wars between Iran and Iraq. So if you go by Saddam’s words and his previous actions taking his threats seriously was the correct thing to do. It was only after we went into Iraq, found out that what all the intelligence wasn’t true, after nearly all of Congress authorized the military action based on the same intelligence that Bush had been given that the Left (Democrats in Congress) started to use the Bush lied meme to politicize the war for political gain.
How much slack are you supposed to give a barbaric dictator like Saddam? Past 18 U.N. resolutions that he failed to comply with? If the U.N. had acted properly earlier, acted more assertively against Saddam, maybe the war could have been avoided. But some members were in bed with Saddam via the oil for food program so they didn’t want to cut off their money flow.
If the U.S. does indeed stand for freedom (which I believe it does) are we supposed to let other countries dictators persecute, rape, and commit mass murder against human beings?
I can understand reasoning on both sides of this issue: those who were/are against us having engaged in a war with Iraq and those who believe it was the correct thing to do.
“Do you believe the same about all the other intelligence agencies – which was either all or nearly all of them – who believed that Saddam had WMD’s before we entered Iraq?”
Have you not understood yet that you–that we–were simply being lied to? None of those intelligence agencies could possibly have had any hard evidence of WMD in Saddam’s Iraq, for the simple reason that THERE WERE NONE THERE! It’s called propaganda. It’s called disinformation. It’s called lies.
There were voices at the time, trying to get media time to tell the truth about it. They were silenced.
Btw, calling the Kurds against whom Saddam used those nasty weapons “his own people” was, and is, a huge stretch. The Kurds are a nationless people, looking for a nation, who had drifted across borders into Iraq and then started a separatist movement, attempting to grab land from Iraq. If Mexicans did the same in Texas, or New Mexico, or Arizona, they would not be called “our own people”–they would be evicted. Saddam was a monster for gassing non-combatant civilian populations. But it was his methods, not his end in employing those methods, that was truly culpable. He had a duty as head of state to protect his boundaries and his land.
In fact the CIA was very doubtful that Iraq had WMD, precisely because they could get no hard evidence of that. They had some skepticism about their lack of evidence, based on a reasonable belief that surely a guy like Hussein was still trying to develop WMD and the lack of any reliable human intel one way or the other (we had few good sources in Iraq), so their ultimate conclusion was essentially, “we’re pretty sure he’s trying, but we don’t see any evidence that he’s succeeding.”
That proved unsatisfactory to the Bush admin, which put pressure on the CIA to write a stronger claim of WMD. The CIA’s big error was not in its analysis, but in giving in to political pressure to beef up their claim. Essentially all they did was write a more affirmative executive summary while leaving the body of the report–the actual intel and evidence–unchanged. Anyone who had read the whole report would have questioned the executive summary, but of course the administration had no interest in the evidence, only the conclusion, and the few in Congress who got to look at the report only read the exec summary because they don’t have time to dredge through full reports.
The CIA’s big error was firing all of the competent republicans. But I don’t think they could have done much about that, short of insurrection (aka tattling to the Congress en masse)